‘Bermuda’s Resilience In The Face Of Hurricanes’

May 13, 2015

The “case for Bermuda’s resilience in the face of hurricanes can be made on any number of levels,” as we are the “beneficiaries of our history” and “lessons learned across centuries,” Premier Michael Dunkley told attendees at a Hurricane Conference in Florida.

Earlier today [May], the Premier and Minister of National Security Michael Dunkley addressed several hundred attendees ‎at the 29th Governor’s Hurricane Conference in Orlando, Florida.

Premier Dunkley, who is also the Chair of the Emergency Measures Organisation [EMO] was one of the key note speakers at the conference along with Florida Governor Rick Scott and NOAA National Hurricane Director Dr. Richard Knabb.

Premier Dunkley and Florida Governor Rick Scott

IMG_1508

During the Premier’s presentation, he spoke about Bermuda’s historical ‎experiences with hurricanes and the steps the Island takes in preparing for a severe weather event, and also highlighted the important role Bermuda’s insurance and reinsurance entities play in the recovery effort of global disasters.

Premier Dunkley said, “Bermuda is perhaps best known as a leader in the area of insurance and international business, as well as an iconic vacation destination. Less known but no less true is the fact that Bermuda knows hurricanes – how to prepare for them, how to withstand them and how to recover from them.

“Hurricanes are a fact of life for Bermudians.. Our Island lies about 640 miles due east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina – well within the broad thoroughfare known as hurricane alley that each year sends storms barreling up towards us – sometimes hitting but mostly missing.

“We are a small island, just 21 square miles in size, and our geographic isolation has meant that for most of our 400-year history we have been left to our own devices.

“We do not have the option of evacuating with the approach of storms, and so, over time, we have built a unique infrastructure that is, generally speaking, hurricane resistant. Homes, for example, are made of Bermuda stone or cement block with roofs made of slate, and generally capable of withstanding extreme winds.

Premier Dunkley with Dr. Richard Knabb.

Rick Knabb

Premier Dunkley added, “Beyond the Island’s physical development, Bermudians themselves are a savvy people, who are quite proud of the way they handle hurricanes. We know how to batten down the hatches, how to hunker down for the duration, how to help each other and how to get back on our feet in short order.

“Our knowledge of hurricanes and the remarkably composed temperament that comes with it is the product of all our generations, from the very beginning of our history. Indeed, Bermuda’s first settlers came to the Island in 1609 not by plan but by way of a storm.

“Perhaps the most important component of Bermuda’s hurricane know-how is the need to remain alert for new ways to better ready the Island for the next big storm and the recovery that always must follow. That readiness to adapt is integral to the resilience communities need to prevail over natural catastrophe.”

Premier Dunkley’s full speech follows below:

Good morning.

Let me first thank the Programme Committee, the Directors and Officers of this Conference for this opportunity to be here addressing this important gathering.

Bermuda is perhaps best known as a leader in the area of insurance and international business, as well as an iconic vacation destination. Less known but no less true is the fact that Bermuda knows hurricanes – how to prepare for them, how to withstand them and how to recover from them.

Hurricanes are a fact of life for Bermudians. Our Island lies about 640 miles due east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina – well within the broad thoroughfare known as hurricane alley that each year sends storms barreling up towards us – sometimes hitting but mostly missing.

We are a small island, just 21 square miles in size, and our geographic isolation has meant that for most of our 400-year history we have been left to our own devices. We do not have the option of evacuating with the approach of storms, and so, over time, we have built a unique infrastructure that is, generally speaking, hurricane resistant. Homes, for example, are made of Bermuda stone or cement block with roofs made of slate, and generally capable of withstanding extreme winds.

Beyond the Island’s physical development, Bermudians themselves are a savvy people, who are quite proud of the way they handle hurricanes. We know how to batten down the hatches, how to hunker down for the duration, how to help each other and how to get back on our feet in short order. Our knowledge of hurricanes and the remarkably composed temperament that comes with it is the product of all our generations, from the very beginning of our history. Indeed, Bermuda’s first settlers came to the Island in 1609 not by plan but by way of a storm.

Perhaps the most important component of Bermuda’s hurricane know-how is the need to remain alert for new ways to better ready the Island for the next big storm and the recovery that always must follow. That readiness to adapt is integral to the resilience communities need to prevail over natural catastrophe.

The theme for this Conference encourages us to rethink resilience through connecting capabilities for stronger communities.

My aim today is to tell our story, sharing with you what works for us and what most recently was tested under extreme conditions. That test occurred last October when two hurricanes pounded our shores just five days apart.

Hurricane Fay came dressed as a Tropical Storm but quickly became a Category 1 hurricane on arrival. The storm delivered a short, sharp punch to the Island, with wind gusts of 120 mph, inflicting extensive damage to vegetation and knocking out power to 72% of the customers of the Bermuda Electric Light Company or Belco, the Island’s sole provider of electricity.

Hurricane Fay was the warm-up act for Hurricane Gonzalo, a Category 3 storm which clearly fell in love with Bermuda as he spent the best part of a day and night over us. Gonzalo battered us with sustained winds of 110 mph and gusts of 144 mph. At the height of the storm, 82% of Belco customers lost power. Tree damage was again extensive, blocking many roads. There were no deaths or major injuries.

Let me turn now to address in more specific terms, Bermuda’s hurricane readiness, our ability to recover and the resilience that enables us to emerge each time battered maybe but never bowed.

Ready

The advent of improved weather forecasting and the 24-hour news cycle has made the job of alerting the public to danger much easier. Having said that, the challenge of being heard over the noise of so many other activities remains. Bermuda has one of the highest penetrations of cell phone use in the world and so a logical addition to the various methods of communicating storm-related advisories came in the form of text messaging to all cell phone subscribers.

In partnership with Bermuda’s two main providers, we are able to issue short text message alerts to all users. This makes it possible to widely encourage storm preparations and to urge people not to leave things to the last minute. Three days from the forecasted onset of tropical storm force winds we can stimulate the necessary level of storm preparations that can make the difference between loss of property or life.

Bermuda is a series of islands connected by bridges. The main bridge to the east end of the island and the airport is a 19th century structure known as The Causeway. This single artery lies in the traditional path of the strongest tidal surges and winds from hurricanes. To lose it is to disconnect the east end of the Island with its international airport from the rest of the country, centred on the capital city of Hamilton.

Early in our national hurricane preparations we pre-position assets in the east end to ensure that we can attend to basic emergencies in the area and to immediately start the clean-up of the airport once a storm has passed. We co-locate elements of the Bermuda Regiment, the equivalent of your National Guard, with the Police, the Bermuda Fire & Rescue Service and some airport personnel.

Coordinating this readiness effort is a critical element of how we manage to lessen the blow of severe storms. Bermuda has an Emergency Measures Organisation (EMO), co-chaired by me in my capacity as Minister of National Security and the Commissioner of Police, bringing together the pertinent Government and private sector agencies in one room to provide direction both pre and post any natural disaster.

The EMO meets regularly before any storm and leads the effort to get Bermuda ready.
By and large our citizens are well prepared, responsive to alerts, who take seriously the need to protect life and property. Our level of preparedness is enhanced by the Island’s leadership, which has never failed to stress its importance nor taken for granted how much preparation needs to be done for these storms.

Recovery

In 2003, Hurricane Fabian, a strong Cat 3 storm, inflicted serious damage to Bermuda and four lives were lost on the Causeway. After that storm, Bermuda’s airport was open for business within three days and the first cruise ship was welcomed four days after that. This set the modern standard for recovery, and since that storm we have learned important lessons that has included the pre-positioning of assets I mentioned earlier and the closure ( blockage) of the Causeway with the onset of hurricane force winds.

Retaining the confidence of the business world and our tourism partners makes the pace of our recovery that much more critical. We do not have the luxury of moving in slow time. We are an Island destination that has an affluent population, a discerning visitor and worldwide connections. We must get up and running fast.

Immediately following any storm, the EMO meets as soon as winds have subsided and members make their way to a central location.

Once in place, our priorities are usually along these lines:

  • Electricity restoration
  • Clearing of main roads
  • Damage assessment to private homes
  • Runway clearance at the airport
  • Structural assessment of The Causeway

Attention to these five main areas immediately sets us on the path to recovery. We enjoy a close working relationship with Belco and it is an understatement to say, when hot showers and hot food have stopped being part of daily life, that its representative quickly becomes the most important guy in the room.

We devolve the management of these main tasks to various public sector agencies and we are fortunate that the EMO is a group of players who are familiar with each other and who know how to work together make things happen to the benefit of the population.

In this information age, I would be remiss if I didn’t emphasize the critical part played by communications. Our experience has demonstrated that news travels fast and bad news even faster. Part of our public education work has been to drill home the message that the only reliable source of information is the EMO. In other words, if we didn’t say it, then it ain’t true.

Throughout the storm, we activate an emergency broadcast radio channel whose signal strength has recently been enhanced to ensure there are no gaps in service. This station is manned throughout the storm and for days thereafter to ensure that the most accurate information is put out to the public.
In the wake of Fay and then Gonzalo, the detailed notices to the public were well received and contributed to orderly recovery. The feedback we got was mostly positive except for one DJ’s obsession with Olivia Newton-John. We eventually fixed that part.

Once a storm passes and the sightseeing begins – most everyone wants to see what happened – there is a clear and pressing need to clear roads, restore all services, from telecommunications to utilities, and to get life back to normal. Our citizens need to know when they should return to work, when children should return to school and business people and tourists need to know when flights will resume regular service.
In the immediate wake of Fay on Sunday with 73% of the island without power, the EMO and our systems and procedures were humming and our people – emergency crews and citizens – were fully engaged in doing what needed doing.

By Friday, five days after Fay hit us and a few hours before Gonzalo was to arrive, power had been restored to all but 4% of Belco’s customer base.

The collective, almost inborn commitment to readiness and recovery that day made it possible for us to escape death and serious injury at the hands of Gonzalo. On Saturday morning 82% of the island was without power. By Monday, October 20, some 48 hours after the last hurricane winds had passed, all major operations were back up and running and only 20% of the island was without power. By November 1st, 15 days after Gonzalo, power was restored to all Belco customers.

Resilience

The case for Bermuda’s resilience in the face of hurricanes can be made on any number of levels. We are the beneficiaries of our history, of lessons learned across centuries and of our commitment to remain vigilant and prepared. The double blow we experienced in October proves we can withstand severe natural threats and emerge strong as ever, returning to normal life in record time.
Our own local experience aside, Bermuda’s resilience ripples across the waters to other areas affected by natural disasters or even man-made events.

The strength of our insurance product spells resilience for those we cover and demonstrates this conference’s theme of connecting capabilities for stronger communities. The record shows that Bermuda-based insurers possess the capability and capacity to help when help is needed most.
This is particularly so with the state of Florida.

David Bigley of Endurance says: “The relationship between Bermuda and Florida is symbiotic, with Bermuda accounting for around 60 percent of reinsurance capacity bought by Florida domestic insurers. The level of coverage and the strength of relationships established between the two markets have deepened over time, he said, with many Bermuda players building up their Florida portfolios as their global portfolios have grown. Florida is an important part of any property cat portfolio….”

The Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers estimates that between 2001 and 2012, Bermuda companies paid $37 billion dollars in catastrophe claims in the USA. This would include such terrible storms as Katrina, Wilma and Rita.

Just this year, the Florida hurricane catastrophe fund backed the transfer of $2.2 billion in risk to the private sector. As our local newspaper, The Royal Gazette reported in March, the Florida move means that — for the first time — the state-backed catastrophe fund can go to the markets with reinsurance brokers and assess options for private risk transfer, including traditional reinsurance and new players like insurance-linked securities (ILS) and other alternatives.

Mr. Bradley Kading, President of ABIR said: “The Florida Cat Fund now has authorization to search the market for private reinsurance protection. If they find a good economic bargain they may buy reinsurance coverage for the first time. If they do so, they would be making the same sound economic decision made by the California Earthquake Authority, The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, the UK Pool Re, and the New Zealand Earthquake Commission.”

Mr. Kading added: “Reinsurance provides good value to consumers, for a premium we take on risk that others don’t want. We pay our claims quickly. We help Florida avoid use of bond debt, which has to be paid back with interest.
Florida has just finished paying off nine years of bond debt and billions in interest costs. Reinsurance can help avoid the assessment of such future hurricane taxes on Florida citizens.”

Bermuda is a leader in this area of insurance and reinsurance. Our commitment to excellence and sound growth in this area means that we have built a product that is resilient in its own right.

We have a light but firm regulatory touch and the environment we have created in which to do business has stood the test of time. These factors, along with our ability to manage major challenges such as hurricanes, are what attract insurers to our shores. And it stands as an example of one’s strength becoming fundamental to the strength of others.

Ladies and gentlemen, It is my hope in sharing with you Bermuda’s hurricane experience that we are helping to fulfill the conference theme of contributing to capabilities for stronger communities.

It makes sense to share knowledge. As has often been said on our 21-square miles back home, we are all in this together. The closer we work together, the better we understand each other, the better we will be able to make our way safely in this often turbulent world, connecting with each other for stronger, safer, more secure communities.

Thank you for your time.

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Comments (21)

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  1. Mockingjay says:

    Photo opp #1,523

    • Realize & Legalize says:

      ^ ignorance at its finest

    • mj says:

      yup Jay another photo opt, coz all this information is available and just wondering why he would need to explain our hurricanes when they have been battered with tirnados and awful weather conditions not seen in 8oyears from texas to florida! and there is not enough limesstone to rebuild those places..strange, a Premier going out there to talk about the weather, looking casual there without a tie..hmmm pictures looking cozy too hmm

  2. aceboy says:

    Great speech Premier Dunkley!

    Made me proud to be a Bermudian.

    • Mockingjay says:

      Ill be proud to be Bermudian when we go Independent.

      • aceboy says:

        No you won’t. You’ll be too busy trying to find something to eat.

    • aceboy says:

      To the people who disliked my comment, I’m assuming you think Mr. Bean could have given a better speech. He’s a little busy right now though preparing a defence against another little speech he made.

    • mj says:

      doesn’t take much to make u proud.. read a book, documentary or something, get really impressed!

  3. aceboy says:

    ….and to his point about learning a lesson, he is so right.

    I never owned a generator up to Gonzalo. After Fay I told the wife “That’s it, there’s another one on the way. We are getting a generator.”

    She said “Nah, we don’t need to spend the money”

    So I said “Ok, cool. I am just warning you that I am going to be very quick to say “I told you so” when we can’t flush the toilets or take a shower….and all the food goes bad. Again. In fact I am going to raise it at every opportunity, like a tree frog in the evening”

    …and lo and behold by Friday we byes had a generator!

    Quo Fata Ferunt!

    • Mockingjay says:

      Your kinda late mate, people in Bermuda got hip to that since Fabian.

    • JUNK YARD DOG says:

      In the old days the common house hold refrigerator was run on the principal of freezer coils , today’s modern fridges are run with forced cold air.
      It is good to freeze up small blocks of ice like going back to the old days of the “ICE BOX ” principal.
      Most generators can not keep your fridge up . Clorox bottles make excellent all year round ice storage containers

  4. Triangle Drifter says:

    Hey Bye, where are the Bermuda shorts?

    • Mockingjay says:

      We’ve found out that wearing Bermuda shorts around International Business men makes us look like fools.

      • Triangle Drifter says:

        No, the Bermuda shorts make us instantly recognisable as being from Bermuda. It is our very own national dress. Unlike showing up to a very serious business conferrence with a gombeys which makes us look so 3rd world.

  5. JUNK YARD DOG says:

    We are not entirely out of the woods,Bermuda does encounter Tornadoes during hurricanes which most likely takes parts of your roof off

    residents still have to be able to seek shelter in the safest room with out windows in their home preferable a closet.

    Wearing a bike helmet is not out of the Question.

    Remember “You can not ever Trust an un-predictable Hurricane”.

  6. Silence Do Good says:

    Great job selling our products like reinsurance that helps the US recover after their storms. We should be exporting our trades in building Bermuda homes to east coast and gulf coast states. Think remittance economy.

    There are other ways to have foreign monies flow back into Bermuda from our professional with skills and experience. It would be like Canada, China etc. supporting their construction firms to go aboard for contracts.

    It would start small at first until the first storm hits and all the paper houses are gone and the only ones left standing are Bermuda style homes. Would make for great news and marketing of our traditional product. The reinsurance companies could support our export as it would reduce their long term cost.

    • JUNK YARD DOG says:

      THEY BUILT THE HOUSE OF STRAW.

      Over the years the presumed to be Bermuda style home has been through many copy cat construction and design changes some of these changes today are a take off of the typical and unsuitable Florida dwelling, the object over there is / was to save money and then pay later with repairs.

      There many dwellings sporting an unbalanced pitch of the roof as far to many owners opp for the typical 7 as to 12 angle, this for example equates angle of 7 ft rise over a 12 ft run, where a 9 ft rise or preferably a 10 ft rise would be far better as this balances off the wind pressure, by that I mean high wind over a low pitched roof tends to suck the roof up and off ,where as the hurricane wind acting on a high pitched roof will force the roof slate down creating a favorable load pressure balance.

      Unfortunately there is a “Catch 22″ or no win situation when a Tornado take a “bulls eye “on your property.

      To prove my point,how many old Bermuda style homes have you seen missing their slate roof ? Back then the president and principals of Bermuda a construction were set in stone.

  7. I gave Florida a copy of our building codes at a lowes in Orlando…their roof centers on rafters csn be a mere 24″ on center of 2×4″…with no collar tie to concrete belt…or other flex preventative center rsfter to collar tie centers…rare to find practical shutters…in truth i forsee concrete footings to either steel ibeam structure sheathe and or re-rod ferro cement dome homes from concreat footings with styrofoame incorporated for insulation in future subsidised by insurance companies for build that can withstand tornado…all windows solaroll wind down and electric…

  8. Terry says:

    What can I say.

    Good presentation on awareness, structures and helping each other.

    On the plus side some great promo for Bermuda.

    Shalom.